The inconsolable mother’s tears may take time to dry up, but Kerala will not be able forget her wails.
“If the police had acted on my complaint, my second daughter‘s life could have been spared,” she cried, shocking the state with her claim that the police had not acted promptly.
On March 4, the sexually-assaulted body of her nine-year-old daughter was found hanging in their one-room house in Walayar in Palakkad, about two months after the body of her elder daughter (14) was found in the same manner.
The daily wager mother claimed that the younger one had known the culprits of the first, and was thus “silenced”. The second murder could have been averted had the police acted on her complaint against suspects, she said.
In a state that prides itself on being the most literate in the country, the two murders are not isolated.
Last year, the brutal murder of a law student, Jisha in Perumbavoor of Ernakulam sent a chill through the state and was even dubbed Nirbhaya II — after the gruesome gangrape and killing of a physiotherapy student on a moving bus in Delhi in December 2013.
Earlier this month, a Catholic priest was arrested in Wayanad in north Kerala for raping a 16-year-old who later gave birth to a baby. The evading Fr Robin Vadakkumchery was arrested hours before he was about to leave the country. The father of the girl was promised Rs 10 lakh to own up the crime, and five nuns and two doctors are on the run for allegedly conspiring to save the priest.
Last week, in the same district, seven minor girls of an orphanage were assaulted after being lured with sweets and mobile phones.
Last month, the south Indian film industry took to the streets after a leading actress was allegedly abducted and sexually assaulted by a criminal gang in a moving car in Kochi.
“It is time we stop being candle-lighting sympathisers and ensure that the law of the land be strengthened in such a way that nobody dares contemplating such heinous acts,” actor Mohanlal wrote on Facebook.
The rising number of sexual assaults against women and girls are a worrying point for the state so much that an angry, former defence minister and ex-CM A K Antony said Kerala cannot be called ‘God’s Own Country’ anymore.
State police data shows a three-fold increase in number of rapes in the last decade from 500 in 2007 to 1,644 in 2016.
Cases under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act hit 2,093 in 2016 from 1,569 in 2015 and 1,002 in 2013. But what’s more shocking is the conviction rate. In the last three years only 53 accused have been convicted under POCSO.
Moly Kuruvilla, head of centre for women studies, University of Calicut, noted that after committing a crime, the accused usually came out on bail and the legal process dragged on for years. “Many victims were forced to end the case. This attitude emboldens others to commit same mistake.”
Sociologists and women activists blame poor policing, tardy judicial system, mushrooming pornographic sites, dipping family values, growing gender insensitivity and rapid marketisation for the spurt in crimes against women.
What is more alarming is that cashing in on the apathy of law-enforcement agencies, ‘moral police’ have started implementing their diktats menacingly.
Last week, a gang of Shiv Sena activists shamed the state caning young couples who were sitting around Kochi’s best address, Marine Drive. Arrested Sena activists, who were later thrown out of the party, claimed that “indecent dressing and intimacy with opposite sex were main reasons behind soaring crime graph”.
Last month, a youth committed suicide after he was attacked by a gang of “moral activists” while sitting with his girlfriend on a beach in Kollam. Kuruvilla called for gender sensitisation in a massive way.
“It should start from every household. Patriarchal society always treats women inferior. In every household, there are many dos and don’ts for girls but not for boys.”
“From religion to cinema, women are treated badly. How to respect women, nobody imparts a lesson to boys. So it is natural for a growing-up boy to treat a girl as a sexual object and not as an equal,” she said.
Activist and child psychologist Mala Parwati, who has helped victims to come out of their trauma, said, “First we have to treat and correct the prevailing mindset of a section of men-folk. Initial lessons will be taught at home how women can be respected and cared.”
A concerned state government is mulling the launch of an online registry to name and shame sexual offenders. Since connectivity is high in the state, many activists, including Sunitha Krishnan, had advised it to maintain an online data bank containing details of offenders, a first of its sort in the country.
But legal experts have warned that it can carry only names and details of convicts, not the accused. Since legal
proceedings are tardy, many fear its efficacy now.
Mahila Congress leader Bindhu Krishna demanded that all sexual assault cases should be fast-tracked and the guilty should be given deterrent punishment. “That is the only solution to contain the menace.”
The tough-speaking health and social welfare minister, K K Shylaja said the government was committed to containing crimes against women.
“Besides strengthening enforcement agencies and watch bodies, we have to begin an awareness campaign from grassroots (every household) that women are not mere sexual objects,”
Apart from raising a women battalion and setting up more women-only police stations, the government will set up a toll free helpline (Mithra 181) to help the needy, she said.
“It is sad that in most cases victims and perpetrators are adolescents. We have to give proper sex education to make them aware of their physical changes and limitations,” she said.
“The advanced socially and culturally Kerala will have to take a tough stand. We know how to deal with the scourge that is bringing shame to the state,” said the minister.